August 13, 2020

It's not just business as usual at the United States Postal Service.

While President Trump is publicly saying he plans to block funding for the USPS so that Democrats can't achieve their goal of expanding mail-in voting across all states ahead of the November election, the Postal Service is also facing some internal changes.

Vice News' Motherboard reported Thursday that USPS is quietly removing mail sorting machines — the very machines that are responsible for sorting ballots. There's no official explanation for the changes, and it's unclear why the machines would be removed rather than simply not used when not needed. The removals and planned removals are reportedly affecting several processing facilities across the U.S.

"It'll force the mail to be worked by human hands in sorting. Guarantees to STOP productivity," a Post Office source told The Washington Post's Jacqueline Alemany. "On top of cutting the overtime needed to run the machines, can you imagine the [overtime] needed to do this [the] old hard way?"

Postal workers say equipment is often moved around or replaced, but not usually at such a rate, and not in such a way that would affect workers' ability to quickly process large quantities of mail. Local union officials have no idea what's going on. "I'm not sure you're going to find an answer for why," one union president told Vice, "because we haven't figured that out either."

A USPS spokesperson said the move is routine. "Package volume is up, but mail volume continues to decline," said the spokesperson. "Adapting our processing infrastructure to the current volumes will ensure more efficient, cost effective operations." Since there is an expected influx of mail as Americans begin sending in ballots, postal workers urged voters not to wait until the last moment to avoid overwhelming the dwindling number of sorting machines. Read more at Vice News. Summer Meza

10:28 p.m.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) swiftly condemned President Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the November election, tweeting, "This is how democracy dies."

Trump told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that mail-in ballots are "a disaster" and officials will need to "get rid" of them. Trump has been claiming, without any evidence, that more mail-in ballots being sent due to the coronavirus pandemic will result in a rigged election, and it won't be in his favor.

Schiff tweeted that Trump won't commit to a peaceful transition because he is "so desperate to cling to power," and that's also why he "seeks to throw out millions of votes." The Republican Party is "too craven to say a word," he continued, but Americans "will fight back."

Schiff later appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show, and said now is the time for "all good people of conscious to speak and to act to preserve our democracy, because there is no longer any question about this president's intentions. His autocratic intentions are as clear as the writing on the wall." Trump has "so clearly telegraphed his intent" not to give up power if he loses re-election, and his statements are those of "a would-be dictator," Schiff said. "There's just no ignoring them anymore. There's no wishing them away. There's no pretending he doesn't mean what he says. There's too much evidence to the contrary."

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) also spoke out against Trump's remarks, although his tweet was milder. "Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus," Romney said. "Any suggestion that a president might not respect this constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable." Catherine Garcia

9:31 p.m.

The family of Breonna Taylor said the fact that two of the officers who shot her were not charged at all in connection with her death "falls far short of what constitutes justice."

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who served as an emergency medical worker, died on March 13 after three Louisville police officers entered her apartment on a no-knock warrant as part of a narcotics investigation involving her ex-boyfriend; no drugs were ever found inside. They used a battering ram to enter, and Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said he thought the officers were intruders, and used his licensed handgun to shoot at them. The officers returned fire, and Taylor was shot multiple times by the officers.

Taylor's death sparked outrage and anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests across the country. On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted one officer, former detective Brett Hankison, on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment for shooting into the apartment next to Taylor's, but none of the officers were charged in Taylor's death.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is representing Taylor's family, and in a statement said the lack of charges is "outrageous and offensive to Breonna's memory," but this does not "define this movement or this moment in our history. The grand jury may have denied Breonna justice, but this decision cannot take away her legacy as a loving, vibrant young Black woman who served on the front lines in the midst of a devastating pandemic."

Crump said the no-knock warrant was illegally obtained due to perjury, and the officers entered the apartment without announcing their presence, according to Walker and several of Taylor's neighbors. He also said more than 30 gunshots were fired, and many were "aimed at Breonna while she was on the ground." For the sake of all Americans, Crump asked law enforcement agencies to "take a long, hard look in the mirror. Is this who you are? Is this the example you want to set for the rest of the world and for future generations?"

The Justice Department is still investigating the shooting, and Crump said he hopes through this probe, "we will finally get the justice for Breonna that the grand jury refused her today." Catherine Garcia

8:32 p.m.

When asked by a reporter on Wednesday to commit to a peaceful transition of power should he not be re-elected in November, President Trump refused, saying, "Well, we're going to have to see what happens."

More people are expected to use mail-in ballots in the general election because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Trump has repeatedly made baseless claims that this will lead to voter fraud designed to hurt him. On Wednesday, Trump said the ballots are "a disaster. Get rid of the ballots and you'll have a very — we'll have a very peaceful, there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation. The ballots are out of control."

This isn't the first time Trump has hinted he won't accept the election results, and he is also prone to suggesting he will serve more than two terms in office. The Atlantic reported on Wednesday that Trump's campaign is discussing "contingency plans to bypass election results" should Trump lose in November, including appointing "loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority." Catherine Garcia

7:18 p.m.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D) are both calling on the state attorney general's office to make evidence from the Breonna Taylor case public.

Taylor, 26, was shot and killed in March when police entered her Louisville apartment on a no-knock warrant. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said he believed the officers were intruders and fired at them; as gunfire was exchanged between Walker and all three officers, Taylor was shot by officers multiple times. The officers were there as part of a narcotics investigation involving Taylor's ex-boyfriend; no drugs were found in the apartment.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Kentucky grand jury announced the indictment of one of the officers, former detective Brett Hankison, on felony charges of wanton endangerment, after shooting into the apartment next door to Taylor's. Attorney General Daniel Cameron said the other two officers involved in the shooting, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, were justified in their use of force.

Cameron said he will not release the full grand jury report or provide details about the gender and racial makeup of the grand jury, saying it was to protect them. During a press conference, Beshear said Cameron "talked about information, facts, evidence that neither I nor the general public have seen. I believe that the public deserves this information." Beshear suggested posting evidence, like ballistics reports, online, and said it would not impact the charges in the indictment.

"Everyone can and should be informed," Beshear said. "And those that are currently feeling frustration, feeling hurt — they deserve to know more." He also thinks Cameron should should answer the "legitimate question" about the racial and demographic makeup of the grand jury. "I don't think it will give out anybody's identity or compromise who they are," Beshear said. "And provided that it is sufficiently diverse, it may give people just another piece of information that they can process."

Fischer told reporters he knows "there are people in our community who feel that these charges fall short of achieving justice," and said if evidence is made public, it will help people see the reasoning behind the grand jury's decision. The Department of Justice is still investigating the shooting, and Fischer said the case is "far from over." Catherine Garcia

5:42 p.m.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, The Kansas City Star reports.

Earlier in the day, Parson's office announced his wife, Teresa Parson, tested positive after developing mild symptoms, including a runny nose and cough, prompting the governor to seek testing as well. So far, Parsons said he feels well and has "no symptoms of any kind," but will quarantine. The Star notes the 65-year-old had heart surgery four years ago, so he is in a demographic that's at greater risk.

Parson is now the second governor to test positive after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R), who contracted the coronavirus in July. (Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) received a false positive result in August.)

The test result comes in the middle of a campaign for Parson, who is seeking his first full gubernatorial term after his predecessor resigned in 2018. He was scheduled to debate his Democratic opponent, Nicole Galloway, on Friday, but it's been called off.

Per the Star, Missouri has reported nearly 117,000 coronavirus cases and about 1,950 deaths. The state had the fifth highest rate of cases per capita in the U.S. last week. Read more at The Kansas City Star. Tim O'Donnell

5:11 p.m.

CIA Director Gina Haspel is reportedly keeping a tight lock on Russian intelligence.

Nine current and former officials tell Politico that Haspel "has become extremely cautious about which, if any, Russia-related intelligence products make their way to President Donald Trump's desk." She has also reportedly been cracking down on the agency's "Russia House," which produces intelligence on the country — but exactly why she's doing so is up for debate.

Last year, Haspel started having the CIA's general counsel review "virtually every product that comes out of Russia House" before it heads to Trump — an "unprecedented" workflow, Politico reports. Haspel's "scrutiny" has led to some "recent dust-ups" with Russia House analysts, including the firing of the house's head this year, four current and former officials tell Politico. Another Russia House analyst reportedly quit after Haspel said he had lied about intelligence. "She calls analysts liars all the time,” said one former CIA official.

But another official said it's not a matter of Haspel trying to censor the agency from Trump, who is "extraordinarily sensitive around the subject of Russian meddling," Politico reports. It's more about "quality over quantity," the official said. "Scrutinizing intelligence product and process is exactly what is expected of Director Haspel," CIA Press Secretary Timothy Barrett told Politico, adding she "ensures intelligence is corroborated, double-checked, and then run through the wringer once more." Read more at Politico. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:47 p.m.

Leaked audio from internal Facebook meetings revealed by The Verge on Wednesday touches upon serious subjects like civil rights, the 2020 election, and whether the social media giant should present itself as politically neutral, but reporter Casey Newton said he sought to present a holistic view of the company through the recordings. And, subsequently, there were some more light-hearted elements, as well.

In one question and answer session, Facebook's founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg seemed flummoxed by a question about how free office snacks were no longer available to employees now that most folks are working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic. Whoever submitted the question noted that the free food was "a major sell" to job applicants, and now "we've lost a huge financial part of our package." Zuckerberg, Newton writes, responded with "polite disbelief" by noting he hadn't see any data suggesting the snacks are "anywhere near the list of primary reasons that people come to work at this company."

Zuckerberg also has a self-deprecating side, Newton reports. At one point, he addressed a viral photo of him surfing wearing an inordinate amount of sunscreen. Zuckerberg joked that he's never "under the illusion that I look particularly cool at any point with what I'm doing" and that he was wearing "quite a bit more sunscreen" than he realized. But, ultimately, safety comes first. "I'm not going to apologize for wearing too much sunscreen," he said. "I think that sunscreen is good, and I stand behind that."

Dermatologists will be happy to hear that. Read more at The Verge. Tim O'Donnell

See More Speed Reads